Saturday, August 20, 2011

Zombie Designs

So, I've been shopping for new wallets, right? (My old one went in the dryer when I thought I was under siege by bedbugs and got totally destroyed.) I really liked the wallet I had, and I couldn't really put my finger on why until I started looking at possible replacements.

The reason was the ID Window was designed right on my old wallet. The plastic window was the entire pouch, there was no unnecessary leather border partially obscuring information - no one ever told me to "take it out of there," which is always annoying because that's the time when the natural condensation that's accumulated between the card and the wallet decides to do it's superglue impression. 

I mean, is there really any reason for that border? I mean, it might be a side-effect of the way wallets are manufactured or the way leather is cut, but does it actually serve a purpose to partially obscure an ID and then make it difficult to remove? If it does, I can't think of one. So it's clearly an inferior design. But, curiously, even expensive wallets by name brands like Gucci can get this wrong.

That leads to an interesting question: in pretty much every field and facet I can think of, there are designs and features that are clearly inferior to other, more recent inventions. They are designs whose time is past, and yet they continue to rise from the dead again and again and again. (This is certainly true of software and the web.) This makes true, uniform progress in any field difficult, particularly if you take the view that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. 

Dducation, communication, and the Human Condition are easy things to blame. Information overload is undoubtedly an issue, and I'm sure the sorry state of our patent law isn't helping either. But I feel like this is a big problem. I've seen a rash of articles lately commenting on the pace of innovation, and fretting about the lack of low-hanging fruit still available. It'll take real work to continue to innovate at a pace that even resembles the frenetic rate of the past 20 years or so, and the apparent rate of progress will be even slower if we, as a global culture, are not able to efficiently shed ideas whose time has passed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

UMich Athletics Need Their Heads Examined

So I get this email today from UMich Athletics

As a Michigan M-Mail Subscriber, you will receive priority access to individual tickets to remaining available home games on Monday, July 18th at 8:30AM, prior to the general public on Wednesday, July 20th.
DATE                 OPPONENT                      PRICE
SEPT. 3          WESTERN MICHIGAN           $70
SEPT. 10            NOTRE DAME                 SOLD OUT
SEPT. 17         EASTERN MICHIGAN          $70
SEPT. 24         SAN DIEGO STATE              $70
OCT. 1               MINNESOTA                      $70
OCT. 29                PURDUE                           $70
NOV. 19             NEBRASKA                       $85
NOV. 26            OHIO STATE                      $85

Three things:
  1. I didn't ask to be a "Michigan M-Mail" subscriber, so I don't know why I am.
  2. $70 for one game? Seriously? Professional sports cost less than that!
  3. It doesn't say anywhere in the email which friggin' sport this is for. Genius.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What I'm Burning

One of the reasons I really love the act of creation in these story games I play is that none of them require me to to one of things I really suck at: coming up with a plot. A plot certainly comes about and I have my hand in creating it - both as a player and the game master - but virtually none of it is predetermined. It moves forward a small increment at a time, spinning off the situations created in play, without really worrying about what's going to happen next. (This often isn't as random as it sounds, as there's usually some goal the group is driving towards, but we're totally making it up as we go.)

The reason why this is so freeing for me is that, if I'm running a game, all I have to do is come up with a cool situation that provides enough grist for the storytelling mill. Players fill in smaller details during character creation to put in things that they care about, and then the game is about exploring the world while alternately tying up and creating lose ends. For instance, in the Burning Wheel game I'm now running with some good friends of mine, I pitched them this:
Crime is dead. The people of the Wardship of Towminster know very little of violence, despite living in a relatively large and lively city. There are, of course, the occasional squabbles over bushels of wheat and hands of daughters, but the sight of blood on the street is a rarity, so much so that the last such happening is almost beyond any local reckoning. And what was there to fight about anyway? Strong, stark mountains nestle the city as a mother would a baby, and the valley supplies all they need; useful flora and fauna are found in such variety and in such abundance that the people are left to want for almost nothing. War is also absent. No other Wardships - if they even exist! - call Towminster their enemy. How easy it must be to be Ward here! People do die, of course, but there is no sorrow. Lives are long and full. And the dead are always Claimed almost immediately after passing so that no one need look upon the dead and violate their sanctity. 

However, as is often the case, things were not always this way. Centuries - perhaps even millennia! - ago, crime was commonplace. Political corruption even more so. The two sicknesses fed each other until... until... well, until something Changed. What, when, how... if any of these things were ever known, they certainly aren't now. If any record was ever kept, it has been long lost - or long hidden. Tales of such are still told, but they are now little more than popular campfire stories, used to frighten children and occupy drunkards. The Ward may well know more - and probably does - but no one can say. The Ward least of all, as each in turn becomes Mute when the Command is taken up.

For all the tales and gossip about the Change, the only thing that the people know for certain is that there has been everlasting peace ever since. Those who transgress become Taken; those who wander become Lost; those that do neither become neither; and to be Claimed at the end of a long life is to be welcomed back home. This is the way of things.
But today there is a body in the streets. Today there is a transgressor not Taken. Today there is fear about Tomorrow. And our dear players are among the very few under suspicion.
This provided fertile enough ground for a game. The players had a hand in it during character creation, making suggestions like that the dead guy should be related to one of them or that maybe it was the Church that was responsible. It's all been delicious fun and, whether or not any of you are jazzed by that pitch, I had a tremendous amount of fun coming up with it. There's a Trouble in Towminster thread on the Burning Wheel forums if anyone is interesting in seeing where the story goes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pure Creation

I neglect this blog too much these days. I really shouldn't. I'm no longer unemployed, but that's not really much of an excuse. I think the real reason is that I've artificially constrained the purpose of this blog in my mind. I started using it as a tertiary job search tool, as a watered-down version of a portfolio, and the president to continue that got immense. I started judging too harshly. I started pre-vetoing ideas that weren't "good enough," worried about tarnishing my "brand." (Really? How self-important am I?)

But fuck that noise. This is pure, unbridled creation. I can do with it as I choose - so long as it's about something. (This is a blog, not live journal.)

So right now I'm not going to talk about transit or UX, I'm gonna talk about something I've become more and more passionate about over the last year or so: games. Specifically, indie tabletop RPG's, such as Burning Wheel, FreeMarket, and Apocalypse World. Why? These games are not about measuring dicks with dice. They aren't about "winning" or about "being the best." They're about telling a story together - and making it up as you go. They're colloquially called "story games" - and I love them. If you do any kind of creative work, you'll love them, too. In fact I'm going to go even farther: anyone who does creative work should be playing indie RPG's like this. If you're not, you're doing the creative part of your brain a disservice.

I'll post examples about each of the particular games I mentioned over the next few days and hopefully you'll see why they light my creative spark and why I feel like they'll help make me a better designer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Speaking at Open Gov West in Portland

I probably should've blogged about this a long time ago, but better late than never, as they say. Sarah Schacht, the plucky lady that runs Knowledge as Power, also runs the series of Open Gov West conferences. She's invited me to be part of a panel on government, technology, and usability in light of the work I did with her studying the redesign. Should be fun! I promise to blog about it.

Conference URLs:!/opengovwest

Tunesday, Vol XVII: The Mayfield Four, Ashes Divide, Funeral for a Friend, more...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Future = Bright

It's been 3 years since I graduated from the UW and I think I am finally - finally - driving my life where I want it. Not only am I going to grad school at the University of Michigan this fall to earn the dual-masters of my dreams, but I have serendipitously been offered an internship-like UX position at ZAAZ just as my quality assurance job at winds down. With a little luck, I might even get to use that as internship credit for grad school.

The future looks bright, indeed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

But Now Back to Me...

Is there any doubt that social media feeds the little narcissist in all of us? (Maybe these articles will convince you.) Of course, that's not all it does, and just because you use social media - even a lot - doesn't mean you have a narcissistic personality (hey - there's room for you insecure types, too). But, c'mon, who doesn't like seeing a new comment on your Facebook post or that something you put out there on Twitter got re-tweeted? I fully believe that, to some extent, happiness is not giving a shit, but as beings capable of compassion, we do. It's just how it is. I mean, how does one better oneself without feedback?

One my favorite Twitter clients - Tweetdeck - has implemented their Android client and Chrome add-on with this in mind it seems, and to unintentionally hilarious effect. For instance, they offer you a column that combines all your Facebook notifications and Twitter mentions in one place (which is godsdamned brilliant, if you ask me). What's the column named?

How perfect is that? It's all about me! Yay!1! Oh, and it gets better. When you go to interact with something in the "Me" column, a kind of layover effect appears in the column that allows you to post an update/reply and is even nice enough to give you some context (again, friggin' brilliant). (Note: Tweetdeck does show names and avatars here, I just decided to protect my friends' privacy.)

"Me" column interaction layover
To close this, you click on the column header. That action isn't very obvious, since we're used to seeing a little 'x' somewhere, so to give you a hint they change the name of the column header:

How fucking awesome is that? "Oh, yes, that's very interesting. Now back to me..."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Song of the Moment: "Mission 2000"

"Mission 2000" by Chris Cornell, found on the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack.

It's been ages since I've done one of these, but I'm coming back with a good one. The original cut of "Mission" off Euphoria Morning - an album that I still consider to be incredibly overlooked - is a fantastic study in tension. It grooves along at just under the boiling point for the entire four minutes, riddled with instrumentation that sounds cool, yet spooky at the same time, managing to at once move your feat and chill your bones. It never really boils over, though, at least not in your usual rock song way. It never bothers to kick your teeth in - and it's all the better for it. Instead, it comes on like a sunburn; slowly, but surely, the song ratchets up the tension - adding a wah-wahed out guitar riff there and some rock organ here - and, before you know it, Cornell's trademark scream is pouring out of your speakers, threating to take your eardrums hostage.

But that's not what I'm sharing with you today. Instead, I'm sharing the alternate version of the piece, which he recorded especially for the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack. This one does kick your teeth in - and it's all the better for it. It's a true testament to Chris's songcraft that the same song works just as well both subtly and overtly, as both a shoegazer and a barn burner.

Last, but not least, this song contains what is possibly my favorite lyric of all time:
I have nothing, but then the have is not as good as the want.

Nutritionally Dense

ZAAZ serves up bagels from Noah's for breakfast about once or twice a week. The other day, I ate a one. (Yay!) Being the neurotic nerd I am, I wanted to log it in my food diary. (If you want to read about my data driven life, go for it.)

So I go to the website for Noah's to scope out what the nutritional information is. Up to a point, the scent of information is pretty strong, and I coast right along.
Oo. Fancy!
A menu!
Huston, we have uh-oh.
Huh. It's a list of bagel flavors... not presented as a list. Why not? In fact, they're not even in alphabetical order - or any sort of identifiable order at all. This makes it harder to locate the particular bagel I'm looking for than I would've expected. Oo, but I see it, right near the bottom: "Whole Wheat." I click... nothing happens. Damnit, and here I thought I'd found what I was looking for. Now I'm forced to scour around to find another way to get the nutritional information. Just as I'm about to close the bagel menu box, I see it in the lower left:
This image is actual size.
You can barely read it. You know what that tells me? They consider nutritional information unimportant. Or, perhaps even worse, they don't want me to find it. Which begs the question... why not? Is it really that bad? Are they afraid that it will actually turn me off of eating the food? You know, I have no way of knowing whether or not the implied answers to those questions are true, and yet here I am already asking (and implicitly answering). All I'm trying to do is retrospectively look up some nutritional info for a bagel I have already consumed - that's it! - and here I am, suddenly and unexpectedly questioning their ethics as a purveyor of fine baked breakfast goods. The things that they don't want me thinking about are the very things they caused me to think about as direct consequence of their design choices. This is known is irony. (As opposed to rain on your wedding day. Which isn't.)

But now we come to the crux of the matter. I'm at the end of my hunt, about to get the information I came here for. When I click on that link, what do you suppose I'll find? If you've ever looked up nutrition info on a website before, you know exactly what I'll find, and you also know it's not what I want to find:
Fuck You.
Restaurants, food manufactures, chefs of America, hear me: this shit needs to stop. Aside from absolutely breaking the user experience of the rest of the site, its just plain irresponsible, because you know that this isn't what we're expecting. You know this, without a shadow of a doubt, for two reasons:
  1. Charts like this are impossible to read. I'm not even going to link to research, because it's just obvious.
  2. Every product I buy in every supermarket in America has their nutritional info displayed like this:

    Is this the most readable, usable way to present nutritional information? I doubt it, but it's standardized and fit's familiar, which counts for a lot.
More to the point, there's just no good reason why it isn't presented with the same interactablity as the rest of the site. There is just no way in the world that someone made that chart by hand in, like, Photoshop. That would take days. Someone typed those numbers in. As long as they need to by typed in, why not just type them into a database? Then, all you have to do is make the food item names clickable, use AJAX to retrieve the appropriate row, format it into something presentable and bam: you're done. That's maybe - maybe - a day's worth of development work. But they didn't. Because they don't care. Or, even worse, they don't want you to know.

I'll leave you with a question: every food product in the supermarket (save produce) is required to have nutritional information printed on it in a standard format. Why doesn't food you buy in a shop or restaurant have the same requirements?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tunesday, Vol XVI: Nirvana, Coheed & Cambria, Don Caballero, more...

The Job Just Got So Much Better

An outside observer might expect my job to be a rather typical 9-5 position. Had said observer seen the same job posting I did, I'd be able to forgive him that erroneous conclusion as I had come to the same one. However, this is the software industry - if my time at Microsoft taught me anything, it's that 9-5 doesn't really exist here. At the very least, we're expected check our work email on a consistent basis - even on nights, weekends, and vacations - just in case of a last-minute fire drill. (This is one of the reasons why we feel completely justified checking personal email and Facebook at the office.)

The job I have now is similar to the one I had at Microsoft, but different in a number of significant ways:

  1. Way less responsibility, mostly because...
  2. ZAAZ mostly sells a service, not products - QA standards vary from project to project based on what the client is willing to pay for (which is usually not very much) - and also because...
  3. I was an FTE at Microsoft. I'm a contractor at ZAAZ.

Basically the way it works is I get assigned hours at the beginning of the week (x hours on project A, y hours on project B, etc..). Ostensibly these hours add up to full time work, however they are usually very inflated to either make room for possible fire drills or as a way to under-promise/over-deliver to the client (or both). To put this in perspective, on average, I get assigned almost 18 hours each week I'll never get to bill (yeah, I'm a geek, I keep track of this stuff). So, in order to expect to actually work 40 hours/wk, I'd have to be assigned something like 58 hours/wk. What this means is that, for all intents and purposes, this is a part time job.

I suppose you'd expect that I'd totally have a lot of free time, right? Kind of. I certainly have a lot of time during the day that I spend doing nothing. The problem is I generally have very little idea when the work is actually going to show up. The procedure is for people to put blocks of QA work on the calendar so that we can plan our time, but for whatever reason it doesn't ever seem to go down like that. As a result, I never feel like I have free time. I feel like I am constantly on call. Imagine, if you will, that you're back in college. You're taking 4-5 classes and each week you know you have a certain amount of work to do and a certain amount of class to attend, but you're never given any due dates or told when things will be assigned. Not a very comfortable situation, is it?

I potentially have a lot of time during the day to run errands or get other things done, but I don't often capitalize on it because I constantly live in abject fear of missing an email. You know, that email. It's the feeling of "I haven't gotten any email in hours and there's nothing to do on my calendar, but I can't leave to go to the gym or something because... what if that's right when they decide they have work for me?" (There's a psychological term for this, but I forget what it is at the moment.) It doesn't take long for that kind of thing to burn you out, especially if the job itself isn't something you really love.

The solution, it turns out, is something I've distinctly avoided for months: getting work email on my smartphone. The various rationales for resisting doing this are likely very obvious; it boils down to not wanting to let my job have more control over my life than it already does. There's something very psychologically satisfying about drawing a line in the sand. 

But yesterday I caved... and I have never been so glad. At the time, I was getting a quick bite after going to the gym on "work hours" and instantly all of the guilt and fear melted away. I awoke so much more relaxed today. Ironically, this has put me in more control of my job than I ever was before. As it turns out, just because someone's emailing me doesn't mean I have to respond. But at least now I'll know that if I need to - if the perfect storm does hit at the moment I'm out of the office - I can. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

SoundBoard Selections

At the request of my good friend Lianne, I'm posting the musical selections played during the first two SoundBoard parties. The way the attendance has worked out, the same three people played music for the first two sessions. I certainly hope future sessions yield more variety, here's what we've heard so far:
I've liked them all so far, and I'm looking forward to the next party!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Searching for Trouble

Not so long ago I was chatting with a friend on Facebook that I hadn't spoken with in quite some time. (I know, I know, that never happens, but please try and suspend your disbelief for a moment.) In the course of the conversation, my once-broken arm came up and my friend wanted to hear all about it. I had told this story about 20 billion times and the thought of retelling it kind of made my eyes glaze over... but I had an idea. I had totally blathered about it all over Twitter and Facebook for months. I could just make an elegantly constructed search query and then find most - if not all - of the entries I made regarding the incident. This would not only help out with the current conversation, but all future ones as well. Not a bad plan, right?

One problem: you can't do that. Neither Twitter or Facebook allow you to search backward in time through your own entries; as far as I can tell, Facebook doesn't allow you to search for news feed posts at all. I find that to be a glaring omission. Both services could very easily not only be a source of news and communication, but have great potential to serve as digital scrapbooks. Users of both services have amassed a treasure trove of information about past deeds - births, deaths, triumphs, failures, and events across the the spectrum of significance - that, as it stands, lay just out of reach.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nice Ads

After about a week of trying to make sense of Gawker's very strange new layout, I've come to the conclusion that the audience it serves best is those that advertise on the site. Not only are there 3 gigantic banner ads in this one shot, two of them are ill-positioned over content. I rest my case.

(Note: This is mostly satire. Mostly.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's Not a War on Cars

First thing's first. It's not a war at all. Can't we come up with a better rhetorical flourish than declaring war on something? George Carlin called us out on that 20 years ago and we're still doing it.

But it's not about taking your cars away from you. Honestly, it isn't.
It's about this:
And this:
And about this:
And this:
And also this:
And this, too:
Even more importantly, it's about giving the people like this:
And like this:
And like this:
The ability to do things like this:
And go do this:
And maybe even once in a while do this:
Just like you do. And, hey, there's something in it for you, too, y'know.
You. (Probably.)
You see, the real goal here is to give everyone - everyone - choice. When you walk out your front door, to go do whatever it is you're going to do, you should have the choice to get there like this:
Or using this:
Or taking this:
Or riding this:
Or, yes, even getting in this:
That's all it's about. Now what's so wrong with that?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Math is Hard

In what has been - and is sure to continue to be - a difficult, lifelong quest for health, fitness, and confidence, I have found services like FitClick to be invaluable. If you're curious as to my reasoning, I go into why I find a data-driven program to be necessary for success in this post (one of my first in this blog, incidentally).

However valuable their service, they're not perfect. I, of course, don't expect them to be, but, as a math major, I can't help ribbing them about this one. This is the diet score card, which I find to be one of the most important parts of their site.

As you can see, it's a sort of dashboard for your daily dietary intake. You can track pretty much any nutrient you want (through use of the "More" button you see in the lower right), the three macronutrients in particular; I'm sure you've noticed the percentages below each of them, clearly intended to give you an idea of how well you're maintaining your chosen balance. Nice, huh?

The problem is that they don't make any gods damned sense. 37g of fat is not 34% of either 42 or 51. Nor is it 34% of the combined total of the macronutrients. Nor is it 34% of my overall nutrition intake by weight. At least they add up to 100%, which wasn't always the case, so, y'know... thank the gods for small miracles.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Today I bought nutritional supplements for the first time since... well, I don't think I've ever bought them for myself at all.
We're here to help.
I've talked myself into staying away from vitamins for years with reasons that I'm sure are sound and scientific, but the truth of the matter is that it's mostly unsubstantiated pride along with having been turned off of the practice at an early age. You see, my mother was a bit on the overprotective side. I suppose I can't blame her; I had (and still have) a pretty severe case of asthma and was (and still am) allergic to seemingly anything green or brown. And I was (and still am) vegetarian to boot - and who the hell knew if that was healthy? I was her little broken boy - and she was going to make me well.

As one might imagine, she overcompensated just a little. I don't actually know how many pills she made me take each morning and each night, but let's go with about 200 million - from a 7-year-old me perspective, that sounds about right. E's and B's and D's and C's and letters that I hadn't even learned in school yet were put in a cup on the sink before I brushed my teeth. I might as well have been told to eat a cup of pebbles. (Actually, for a 7-year-old boy, that probably would've sounded a lot more fun.) Every other weekend when I was with my father I'd have dozens of little baggies filled with dozens of vitamins weighing down my backpack. From what I remember my dad more-or-less balked at the task of filling his kid with these magical little rocks; he was down with the mulitvitamin and the C, but kind of left the rest up to me and just tried to make sure I was eating healthily.

As time went on I really grew to hate The Vitamin Time. At about the time I was beginning to learn that you didn't have to do what you were told if you really didn't want to, The Vitamin Time ritual had become routine enough that I was frequently left to complete it unsupervised - so I started dumping them in the trash can in the bathroom. That rouse didn't last long - as soon as the trash was taken out, the multicolored, marbled bottom of the bag gave away my hiding place. And so I was supervised again, but the cycle inevitably and invariably repeated. Every time she caught me she wouldn't just get mad, she'd get furious. It's like I wasn't just betraying her trust, I was killing myself. Didn't I understand? (Aside: No, she never actually used those words as a tactic.) Unfortunately for her, instead of teaching me not to do it again, it simply taught me to find better hiding places: down the toilet; under the grate in my room; in the schoolyard a la The Shawshank Redemption.

Needless to say, I never willingly took a dietary supplement again, short of some vitamin C drops when I felt sniffly. But you know what? Loathe as I am to admit it, I'm grown up now. Mom over did it, but she probably had the right idea. We don't always have time to eat right - especially since our ridiculous industrial food system seems to make it more and more impossible to figure out what eating right even means - and I can see the humble multivitamin as a nice bit of insurance against that. (And the vitamin D? That's insurance against living in Seattle.)

So I'll take my vitamins now. Live and learn.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Search for New Music

Every once in a while, I get on this kick where I want need to find new, amazing music. (Never mind the ridiculousness of that compulsion when I already have almost 350 artists spread over more than 6100 tracks in my catalog, just go with it.) I thought I'd satiate this desire to gorge with my SoundBoard party idea. I actually managed to inaugurate the event a few weeks ago and it went fantastically - so much so that it made this desire to engorge grow even larger.

So, since we just ended a year and a decade, I went in search of best-of lists and have been slowly traipsing through them. In case you're interested (you're not), I thought I'd share them with you:

Sputnik - Best of 2009 (Staff)
Sputnik - Best of 2009 (Users)
AllMusic - Best of 2009
Pitchfork - Best of 2009
Sputnik - Best of 2010 (Staff)
AllMusic - Best of 2010
Pitchfork - Best of 2010
Sputnik - Best of the Decade (Staff)
Sputnik - Best of the Decade (Users)
Pitchfork - Best of the Decade
Paste - Best of the Decade
OneThirtyBPM - Best of the Decade

Preview any of them you want via Grooveshark and join me in my over-self-indulgence.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Forests, Trees, and One Way Streets

As a lover of user experience - and, by extension, psychology and sociology - I love noticing when people engage in odd behavior, particularly when I see the same mistakes happen again and again.

Now that I live, work, go to the gym, and just-about-everything-else in downtown Seattle, I find I'm doing a lot more walking around the city. Not only is this a decent way to sneak some exercise in edgewise, but it also lets me watch people drive around a lot more, which is endlessly entertaining in that gallows humor sort of way. I get to watch people making the same mistakes over and over again, ad nauseam. Most of these are so common that it's hard to find a stand up comic who hasn't humorlessly lamented about them, but one case has proven to be surprising: driving the wrong way down a one way street.

Obviously, I know that this happens - I've been in the car when people have done it. What I wasn't aware of is that it happens with a startling regularity. At least once a week I'll hear a chorus of car horns singing the lament of a pair of headlights facing the wrong way. Granted, one car in a week's worth of cars is not a large portion, but this is a case where it only takes one car making a mistake to cause some havoc.

I wouldn't have expected that people frak that up as much as they do, but in retrospect I suppose it isn't so surprising. I mean, the one way street is an artificial construct. There is nothing about the physical medium of a street that suggests that you can only drive on it in one direction. Put another way, you can drive on it in more than one direction, you're just not supposed to. Sure, there are signs at every intersection where there's a one way street, but they can be missed. I'd guess that the most obvious indicator of a one-way street - the closest thing to an affordance it can offer - is a stream of cars that are only flowing in one direction. Short of that, it only takes a small bit of preoccupation for a driver to not notice signs and signals.

Even more interesting is that even people who don't regularly make wrong turns down one way streets will often be able to empathize with what a pain in the ass they can be. Have you ever been driving downtown trying to find an unfamiliar place (or even just been along for the ride)? Missing a turn becomes quite a hassle, doesn't it? Because now the go-back-around-the-block correction is non-trivial. (If you're still in doubt, bring up driving in Boston with anyone who's ever done it and I guarantee you one way streets will factor into the conversation, followed closely by fist shaking and/or chronic alcoholism.)

So, the one way street is a phenomenon that is not natural to the medium, is missed with some regularity, and is a frequent bitching topic around the water cooler. Ergo, bad UX, right? Well... yes and no. Yes, because people are clearly having bad (wait for it) user experiences driving around on one way streets. But the entire purpose of a one way street is to improve traffic flow, reduce congestion, thus improving the reliability of the street grid and, by implication, the experience driving on it.

This brings up some issues that I think are fairly pervasive when designing user experiences. First, users often can't see the forest for the trees. In fact, that's often the point of the design. In my overly-loquacious one way streets example, by and large it is impossible for users to judge that this experience is better than it would otherwise be if all the streets were two-way. They have no point of reference to make a comparison against, and that's by design. The worse way has been eliminated in favor of this better way, which, unfortunately, still kind of sucks at the individual level, even though it's better for the group as a whole.

And that's the other thing that's difficult to communicate through design: a design decision that improves the experience for the group as a whole, but is somewhat undetectable from an individual's perspective. Even worse, I think that it's often the case that even if you manage to effectively communicate this idea (either within the design itself or, as in the case of one way streets, tangentially through documentation/PR), users just don't care. Users have goals, and if the system/design gets in the way, they often really don't care if this personal inconvenience makes things better in general. If they had their way (and were being honest about it), they'd make you change it so that it was great for them even if it screwed over everyone else. But, in a system as complex as a traffic grid, where no man is an island and actions/reactions are very interconnected, such a design strategy is also a losing proposition; the negative side effects would likely more than outweigh the benefits of that action.

I have no idea when, if, or how people will figure this stuff out, but I hope they do. In the mean time, it'll be fascinating to watch them try and figure it out.